Most people are familiar with the hot flashes, mood swings, and general hormonal struggles that accompany menopause, but few know what happens to the vagina during this time on a more physical level. While the mental and emotional effects are well-documented, many women have little or no information regarding the changes that happen to the vagina and vulva during this transitional point in their lives.
But just like gray hair, wrinkles and other changes that come with age, encountering these difficulties in some form is simply inevitable. Learning about what to expect and how to manage the changes moving forward can help ensure the smoothest possible transition into the postmenopausal phase of your life.
The side effects a woman might experience during menopause are as diverse as the women themselves. Each transition into the postmenopausal phase of life is unique and provides its own wellness challenges during these crucial years. One woman?s experience may not perfectly match up with another?s. However, there are several symptoms that many women making this journey have in common, according to recent surveys:
- 40% report vaginal dryness
- 25% experience pain during intercourse
- 12% encounter itching in and around the vagina
- 8% experienced an increase in the frequency of UTIs
Of the surveyed women who identified these symptoms during menopause, less than half of them linked the problems they were having to the transition itself. While each of these symptoms can happen outside of the transitional period, the shift in estrogen levels can be a contributing factor to their formation, which is why they?re likely to manifest during this point in time.
The Bigger Picture
These symptoms are generally indicative of bigger physical changes that women experience during menopause. Dryness, itching and painful intercourse, for example, maybe contributed to vulvovaginal atrophy, a thinning of the tissues around both the vulva and the vagina in the presence of the low levels of estrogen that accompanies menopause.
The skin becomes drier and suffers from reduced elasticity, which in turn is likely to lead to tearing that causes mild bleeding, painful intercourse and, as the skin heals, itchiness. This thinning of vaginal tissue is the main issue that directly causes the vast majority of physical symptoms that women undergoing menopause report encountering.
Another issue that women may face after the onset of menopause is atrophic vaginitis. This involves an inflammation of the vagina after the tissues have begun thinning, which leads to redness and the production of discharge. This is a contributing factor to painful intercourse, dryness, and itching, but also has a higher chance of leading to UTIs and other infections that will affect a woman?s quality of life if left untreated.
Treating the Symptoms
There are many ways to treat the symptoms encountered during menopause. Meditation and a good, healthy dose of daily self-care and additional treatments such as acupuncture can help to deal with the mental and emotional changes. The physical symptoms of a changing body may be soothed with the use of a wide range of products, such as:
- Over-the-counter vaginal moisturizers
- Over-the-counter lubricants for intercourse
- Soothing lotions for dry, itchy skin
Every woman?s experience with menopause is unique, so it?s important to work alongside a doctor to ensure proper care is being given to every symptom, and that the change is happening in a healthy, natural way.
Nearly every painful or uncomfortable symptoms related to menopause can be linked back to a larger issue, such as vulvovaginal atrophy or atrophic vaginitis. Each of these problems can, in turn, likely be linked back to the fluctuating supply of estrogen in the body during menopause. Therefore, the best and most thorough way to treat the assortment of symptoms may be to undergo hormone therapy with a doctor in order to restore and maintain these levels.
According to a number of experts in the women?s health field, this may be the best option for women looking for relief from the sometimes life-altering symptoms of menopause. While this treatment option does not, of course, reverse menopause, experts and patients alike report that undergoing HRT reduces the severity of many common symptoms.
Hormone therapy (HRT) comes in many forms, each designed to provide a dose of estrogen where it?s needed most. Those looking for relief may have the option to choose from a wide range of different application methods, including:
- Creams and gels
- Skin patches
- Local rings (for lower doses)
The type of medication prescribed will likely depend entirely on the symptoms being treated and the severity of the issues. For example, a pill may be used to treat a wider range of symptoms on a more global scale, while local rings or creams are applied directly to the vagina for a lower but more direct dose of estrogen that reportedly helps to combat dryness and itching.
The Benefits of HRT for Menopause
HRT is a more global solution to menopause symptoms than over-the-counter creams, gels, and lubricants. HRT handles the problems caused by low estrogen from the inside to provide women with relief during these crucial changes. While there?s a great deal of research being performed regarding the long-term effects on women?s bodies after undergoing HRT, experts seem to agree that the treatment certainly has benefits for those looking for real relief and other health benefits that?ll help them out down the line:
- Eliminate many of the traditional side effects of menopause, including vaginal dryness and hot flashes
- Slow or stop the thinning of the skin around the vagina
- Reduce the likelihood of UTIs in some cases
- Promote better bone density
- Lessen the possibility of certain types of heart disease
This specialized treatment attempts to provide female bodies with the optimal balance of estrogen to ensure functionality until they reach the postmenopausal years, and the transition is complete. Of course, everybody is unique, and the HRT solution that?s a miracle cure for one woman may not have any effect whatsoever on the next. Therefore, it?s crucial to work diligently alongside a doctor during this type of treatment to obtain optimal results.
The best thing you can do for your body during this period is to learn as much as possible about what happens to the vagina during menopause and the other challenges and changes you might face and how to deal with them head-on.
Proper care is essential during these years, and whether you choose to pursue HRT to deal with the physical changes to your vagina or you prefer a different method, working with a qualified professional is the best way to ensure you?re getting the care you need to stay happy and healthy while your body goes through the natural process of aging.
If you?ve been experiencing the first signs of menopause or your symptoms have recently become worse, contact Dr. Vanderloos to schedule an appointment. With 28 years of experience and a thorough, specialized understanding of the challenges women?s bodies face during menopause, Dr. Vanderloos can help you pinpoint the cause of your menopause discomfort and find a solution that works for your unique body.
Menopause may be natural, but that doesn?t mean it?s comfortable. Fortunately, a compassionate team of professionals is here to help get your body through the change as smoothly as possible.